I am not what I would describe as a great enthusiast for the alternative health craze. I remember reading when I was a child about the “snake oil salesmen” who precipitated this country’s need for a Food and Drug Administration. Although I’d love to believe that all of our modern snake oil salesmen are well-intentioned, I know that many of them are just out to make a buck from a sometimes desperate and often gullible public.
At the same time, some of our most interesting research on children’s behavioral health is coming out of investigation of things that many in the alternative health world have been saying for a long time: We don’t necessarily have an epidemic of new “disorders” for kids—ADHD, high functioning autism, allergies—what we have is a coming together of various strands of our culture to create problems in our children’s growing bodies.
I will only briefly mention how our children’s lives have changed: from most kids walking to school a generation ago to few walking now, most children playing outside a generation ago to most playing inside on a screen now, from kids getting dirty and engaging in creative play to kids stuck in fluorescent-illuminated classrooms now.
What I want to focus on here are a few dietary changes that can be life-changing for kids with behavioral problems. If your child has behavioral problems, it’s worth considering trying any of these changes to see if there is an improvement.
1) Reactive hypoglycemia and omega supplementation
Omega-3 is so helpful for so many kids, but especially for those fast-talking, fast-metabolizing kids who seem to go up and then crash mid-morning. I wrote an article on reactive hypoglycemia, and another on the effects of omega-3. There’s no reason not to start your child on fish pills today, except, perhaps, for the screaming at the yucky stuff goes down. Some people say that their kids like flavored chewables. My kids hate the flavored ones so we’ve settled on Pure Formulas, which they swallow whole. But I think parents should use whatever their kids are willing to take. You may also encourage your child to eat oily fish, which happily, my children love but many children are unwilling to try.
2) Impulse control and iron supplementation
There is a lot of new research coming out linking behavioral issues with iron deficiency. I have a forthcoming article about this in the 2e Newsletter and I will post a link on my Facebook page when it’s out. If your children have trouble with impulse control and mood swings, get their iron tested, and make sure the tests break out ferritin levels, which is only done if specified. Kids who get ADHD diagnoses seem prone to low ferritin levels, and ferritin is what helps the brain regulate serotonin levels. If their ferritin is low, choose an easily digestible supplement. We use Pure Formulas, but only because it was recommended and doesn’t give my daughter an upset stomach. If she could swallow bigger pills, I might want to go for one of the “real food” based supplements, but they taste awful and are large. (Nope, Pure Formulas isn’t paying me, but perhaps I should send them this blog and see if they will!*)
3) Gut bacteria and probiotics
I have been reading recently, especially in research on autism, about emerging evidence that gut bacteria actually play a huge role in behavior. This was very interesting to me because our daughter’s greatest difficulties happened when she was taking an antibiotic for a congenital urinary system disorder. There are new and very expensive ways to diagnose and treat gut bacteria imbalances, but the easy thing you can you is either have your kids eat lots of live culture yogurts, pickles, and sauerkraut or have them take a probiotic. One of the most interesting papers I read about this showed that kids with gut bacteria imbalances actually seek out the foods that are worst for them, which is something I’ve seen as well. I know that there are a lot of very expensive treatments out there, but as far as I’ve read, their efficacy is not yet proven.
I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but it seems to me that the suggestions above should fall into the area of common sense. I find it shocking and more than a little depressing that doctors are willing to diagnose drugs to treat a problem before they suggest trying lifestyle and dietary alterations. I have read that France has a fraction of the number of ADHD diagnoses that we have, simply because they always try lifestyle, education, and dietary alterations first before putting what may be unnecessary drugs into a developing child’s body.
I’m not fond of the snake oil salesmen, and in fact I hate all the noise they make which drowns out the sensible voices in alternative health. But parents can take their own proactive approach, even if their pediatricians persist in sticking with a 1960’s view of medicine and treatment.
* Note: My joke above was just a joke. When I am approached by companies wanting me to hawk their products, I always refuse. I only recommend products either because they happen to fit my family’s needs, or as an example so readers know what to look for. In most cases, a variety of brands will have similar characteristics.